Campaign for migrants' rights

March 11, 1998

SYDNEY — Long Wait, Short Sight: Migrants Denied Security to Settle is the title of a resource and action kit launched at a forum of community welfare organisations on February 23.

Since March 4, 1997, newly arrived migrants have been subject to a two-year waiting period for most Social Security payments. This is causing extreme hardship for many migrants attempting to settle and find work — particularly those whose funds run out before they obtain a job.

The forum was organised by an action group made up of the Australian Council on Social Services, the Welfare Rights Centre, NSW Migrant Resource Centres Forum, Ethnic Communities Council of NSW, Ethnic Child Care Co-op and the Immigrant Women's Speakout Association of NSW.

The campaign kit is designed to "equip organisations and individuals who oppose the introduction of the two-year newly arrived residents' waiting period, [and] to work towards policy reform". It documents the impact of the legislation and procedures for agencies to test the legislation, and provides material for local media campaigns and lobbying politicians. The campaign is focussed on the March sitting of parliament and the March Conference of the Federation of Ethnic Communities Councils of Australia.

The Welfare Rights Centre has asked the Human Rights Commissioner to determine whether the two-year waiting period contravenes Australia's international human rights obligations. However, funding cuts to the commission mean it may not have the resources to respond.

What is apparent after 12 months of this harsh legislation is the creation of an "underclass" as more and more workers are forced into the "informal" economy or into extremely exploitative work practices.

It is vital that the organised labour movement take up the issue of migrants' rights. An industrial campaign around migrants' access to basic income and job security would put flesh on the public awareness and political lobbying campaign being waged by the migrant services organisations.

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